In an attempt to inform people on what it means to be a skeptic, I guess it must first occur that we explain what skepticism is, what it’s not, and how to aptly avoid the “No True Skeptic” fallacy. There could be instances of uber hard-motherfuckin’-core skepticism and light, bland skepticism which is applied to some areas and not to others. In order to make this a bit easier, and to set the tone for the blog to follow, I want to start fresh and come up with a practical approach to applying skeptical virtue to presented ideas, and how to practically digest information and make an informed decisions.
So woo! What is skepticism? In short, skepticism is when you simply critique a presented position/idea in order to find out if what it describes accurately reflects reality. Now, given a minor roadblock in that it is highly unlikely that any description of reality from us will perfectly match up with what happens in reality. Hey! That’s skepticism at work! But it’s a realization of the flaw of epistemology and accepting that flaw, but still moving forward with trying to describe reality. An interesting side note, this crops up in Physics with the idea of the observer effect.
Another thing we must realize about propositions and ideas is that pretty much everything is relative, whether by measurement, definition, description, etc. In order to make a comparison of something, description of something, analysis, communication, we must compare a sort of understood middleman concept to the communicated idea. An example would be ice cream! I could say to my pal Jimmy that Vanilla sucks because it’s not like Chocolate. My comparison of Vanilla to Chocolate gives Jimmy some information for understanding the relationship of the presented idea with the middleman concept, and Jimmy is left with contemplating the presented information with his information he has acquired over his life (I guess this could be called schema, though I’m not exactly sure it’s the best term to use).
Knowing this, we should probably also tacitly approach subjects that are worthwhile in being skeptical against. There’s a fine line between a skeptic and a conspiracy theorist and a dick. For example, it would probably be worthwhile of me to be skeptical of the claim that ice cream is healthy for me versus the claim that 2 + 2 = 4. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be awesome to inquire about the axioms and assumptions of mathematics when compared to the evidence that corroborates the claim, but I think, at least to me, that finding out if ice cream is something that I should start chugging like a motherfucker to make me healthy as well… healthy (since I’m sure we’re going to die anyways, dick), just makes it seem more worth investigating.
That’s all fine, but how can we find out if the ideas that we are skeptical about are likely to be true? Math nerds should be creaming their pants right about now, because this is really where the spotlight moves over to Math: Likelihood. For some odd reason, the likelihood of something being true when objectively scrutinized is how much relevant evidence corroborates a position, then analyzing the evidence and reaching a conclusion. The more scrutinization there is, the higher likelihood that an explanation best describes an aspect of reality. Keep in mind this can be completely and utterly wrong, in that we could gather a crap ton of evidence that supports an idea, but the reality is quite different. Philosophers apparently have been paid in heaps of food rather than money in order to wrack their brains in an attempt to come up with a promising idea in how to always accurately come up with explanations of reality. By the way, that line wasn’t meant to be a dick to philosophers, it’s just that most people sadly don’t think their work is useful to the rest of us (I think it’s awesome though!).
I’m not quite sure if there is a way to approach the art of skepticism or define it in such a way in one post, but let this be an ongoing project in order to help people seeking the ultimate truth (like the truth that ice cream is awesome!).